Why Guilty Pleasure is Good for You

My neighbour and I had been trying for weeks to get together. With opposite work schedules and kids’ stuff, it was getting ridiculous. Last week, she noticed that the movie we’d been attempting to see in the theatre was available on demand, so she suggested a daytime date.

Perfect. We found an afternoon that suited us both. “Any guilty pleasures foodwise?” she texted. “We should treat ourselves to a fun lunch while we watch!” Which translates as junk food: anything greasy, salty or sweet.

I loved the idea – a yummy lunch AND a movie while our kids are at school! So as not to fall completely into eating junk, I picked up some local cheddar and fresh sourdough, made upscale grilled cheeses with a fennel salad, sweet potato fries and a delectable ginger cake. It was a fantastic meal that fit the junk food bill without going so far overboard that I’d regret it later.

We indeed had a fun lunch.

The movie wasn’t as fabulous as we’d hoped, given the weeks of anticipation, but it fuelled our conversation through tea and dessert before the kids got home. Though we were in the kitchen by that point, her son walked in, took one look at the placemats we’d left of the coffee table and asked accusingly, “Did you eat in front of the TV?!?”

Up until then, the day had been pleasurable. I was gob-smacked to notice that those words from a 9-year-old brought on the guilt. For the briefest of moments, I was frozen with my hand in the cookie jar.

 

Guilt comes from doing something we feel we shouldn’t do. It’s about stuff we’re afraid to admit we do, like, want.

For me, guilt doesn’t show up with eating chocolate cake or ice cream or a bag of chips – I have no qualms in satisfying those yens from time to time. That said, I’ve recently woken up to the fact that eating what I ought not eat, especially too frequently or in too large quantities, is actually a punishment – the part that flies right past the guilt and hits hard. (You can read that particular story here.)

The guilt that day came from the feeling that I’d been breaking the rules.

As a mother I work damn hard to uphold the rules. In terms of eating, that might mean ensuring that meals happen at the table and with a good dose of vegetables. I’m also known to harp on to anyone who’s not present to their food, by reading or checking email during breakfast.

There’s an assumption – a self-induced theory to the structure of my days – that while others are busy at the office or school, I too am working. Whether it’s paid work or volunteer or getting Christmas planned doesn’t matter, so long as it’s work. Something useful and productive. As a result, I seem to have created compartments in my mind for when one is expected to be serious and when one is allowed to have fun.

Choosing to watch a movie over lunch in the middle of a random Wednesday afternoon broke that rule…even if the naughtiness of it was a part of the pleasure.

The guilt – the shame – came in the being found out, like a teenager who sees the only thing wrong with her behaviour is getting caught.

Was it in the 90s when people started spouting that “guilt is a useless emotion”? I remember my mother-ex-in-law explaining it to me; how, like worry, it doesn’t have any function other than to tie you in internal knots. Perhaps, like worry, guilt’s function is to point us in the direction of that which needs to change, where we need to set something in motion outside of ourselves.

This particular afternoon of hookie brought my awareness to how much I strive to, if not always follow the rules, at least give the impression that I am. This is my inner teenager, who learned how to rebel without getting caught…and perhaps, without willing to go too far out of her comfort zone.

My predilection for rules got me labeled as the goody-goody more often than I care to admit. This week’s taste of guilty pleasure reminded me that I can follow the rules and be productive and useful, but I don’t need to take it all so seriously. I’m not going to be struck from above for having a bit of fun.

Yes, it’s important that I stick to a certain structure for the sake of my business and my family. It’s important that I take proper care of myself, to feed myself nourishing food and avoid the things that cause me harm, but it doesn’t need to be serious. Those 2 attitudes don’t need to walk constantly hand-in-hand. In this case, it means that a “fun” meal can also have elements of healthy – that a healthy lunch can be fun.

The pleasure of food comes from the delicious combination of colours, textures, flavours,… without going overboard into the realm of punishment. Within that pleasure, letting loose into “cheating” or being “naughty” means making choices that veer from my daily regime, and for the most part, they happen consciously. While this may sound like the goody-goody version of letting loose, I’ve been having a lot of fun with how I nourish myself lately.


Playful smoothie combinations or topping my bowl with (sweetened, but beautifully jewel-coloured) dry cranberries

Opting for frozen sweet potato fries and melted cheese

Eating lunch in front of the TV…by myself!

Cooking a meal just for me, that I will adore.

The nourishment of pleasure goes beyond food choices:

  •       Waking a half-hour early to have the whole house to myself while I journal and pull a card or two
  •       Working in the hot sun at the dining table (the deck in summer) rather than my desk
  •       “Abandoning” my family to walk home from the hockey arena on a warm day.

 

By taking delight in these small moments through my day, I’m rejuvenating body and soul at a whole other level. I’m raising oxytocin levels, boosting motivation and charging creative energy in one fell swoop.

By putting the focus on enjoyment, it lightens the guilt, takes the shame out of the closet for air. (As I’ve said before, air and light are kryptonite to shame.)

Have I been so steeped in the model that that “useful” is the only acceptable daytime activity, that I’ve come to fear judgment from on high if I choose otherwise?

In taking my need for pleasure out to play, letting a crack open in the veneer of perfection I think I need to maintain, I’m opening myself to the momentary freedom of not having to care what others think.

Where the guilt I noticed the other day felt like hiding, instead I’ve created the space for my needs to step forward, step out, be seen – regardless of whether others find them acceptable. In opening up those needs, I take away the struggle and give them permission to be met.

If that’s not healthy, I don’t know what is.

 

So, tell me, which guilty pleasure is calling to you today? Tell us here – when you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others – then go and fulfull it! …Then come back to let us know it felt!

If you’d rather rather whisper this stuff quietly, join the WH community and share your secrets with us in the comfort of the closed Whole Health Dinner Party group. I’ll be in there later in the week to mull over more thoughts about guilt, pleasure and creating better habits.

Are You Your Body’s Worst Enemy?

Ever get hit with a smack-in-your-face reality check and wonder why it took you so long to figure this out? The kind that makes you wonder how you could be so stupid…how could you have let it happen when you clearly know better?

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling terrific. I was emerging more & more from the shell of safety I’d built around myself during the big move. My thoughts were much more clear than they had been since the car accident, and though my belly was giving me occasional grief, my body was reacquainting me with the strength and resilience I thought I’d lost to the downhill slide of middle age.

I took a little trip home to Montreal to visit friends and such. At an acupressure session, I was reawakened to the deep healing you get from going for tune-up support rather than damage control. I walked out feeling like a million bucks!

That night, I went out for the first in a series of overly permissive meals, all in the name of my birthday. I proceeded to indulge, at one point or other over the next 2 days, in ALL the things I usually avoid out of concern for my health… at times, all at once.

I mean, come on, this was a time to be celebrating, a time to let myself go and enjoy.

While I’d just had all this lovely energetic work done on my digestive system, and was fully aware that taking it easy was important – in the same way a big workout after a massage or chiropractic adjustment is to be avoided – I still let my elbow be twisted about sharing a bottle of wine, I ordered the veggies smothered in sour cream. I didn’t refuse the invitation to share a slice of chocolate cheesecake.*

Little wonder that I felt like crap warmed over on the train home, sipping lemon water and swearing to eat nothing but vegetables and broth for the next week.

My logical brain wanted to pin the hangover on some particular culprit: too many late nights, one glass of wine too many, the chocolate, the pasta, the ice cream.*

The fact is, this had nothing to do with the dairy or the gluten or the chocolate or the sugar or the alcohol – they were incidental to this story.

The worst offender in all of it was myself.

 

Yes, there are certain foods and habits that you are best to avoid. If you’re trying to fit back into your favourite dress, if your arthritis prevents you from opening the pickle jar, if your gassy gut makes it too embarrassing to go out, there are definitely foods you know to stay away from, there are habits that help you feel better, that prevent things from getting worse.

It’s so easy on those days that you feel bad to stick to the tried & true routine. Once you start to feel good again, your resolve slips. The better you feel, the more exceptions you allow.

If you’re listening closely to your body, you will be aware of the subtle whispers when she hints that it’s time to ease up and be “good” again.

 

Then there are the times when you feel great, when you’re so high on yourself, you feel invincible, and you somehow believe that nothing could harm you. These are the days you understand what you want your new normal to be. This is how you dream of feeling every day.

Integrate that sensation when it comes; sit with it, get to know the edges of this newly expanded container around you, seek its wisdom. Settle into it.

If you don’t you’re liable to crash as I did.

The Hendricks’ call this the Upper Limits Problem – when you get to a state of more positive energy than you’re used to, and you (subconsciously) find a way to knock yourself back down a few pegs.

 

Is there a fine line, though, where the knocking down isn’t quite so subconscious, when celebrating becomes damage?

 

This may be harsh to say, but that’s what I call abusive.

What I did to myself the other day – ignoring the pleas from my inner knowing and ingesting things I ought not, and in large quantities; hurting my system more because it was extra sensitive, then back-tracking with promises to do better next time. Sounds like abuse to me.

bound in self abuseThe Bach Flower Essence for abuse/self-abuse is Vine. Think of the plant itself: perfect tool for self-flagellation. Even after you do the thing that hurts you, that was so stupid, you continue to beat yourself up about it for days and weeks to come. A vine is the perfect plant for tying yourself up in a knot.

Then it hardens, so that you end up being fully bound in old growth.

Thinking about vines reminds me of the princess in the tower, locked there by a nasty old witch, the character we’ve come to associate with evil personified. Could it be that witch is the part of you that keeps you locked inside the perceived limitations of your issues?

The witch is selfish in the way that she prevents the princess from sharing her beauty with the rest of the kingdom. In squandering your good feelings, in hoarding this better version of you by keeping her hidden or small, you deprive others of the opportunity to love you. You deprive yourself of an opportunity to love you.

The witch cares for the princess so much that she hides her away out of fear for her innocence, not wanting her to get hurt. Are you caring for yourself when you don’t give yourself the chance to heal, or is that a form of cruelty? It’s true: the more open you are, the more you stand up for what you value, the more vulnerable you are to ridicule and attack from the world around you. Yet, the more open you are, the more space you have to grow and blossom into that million dollar version you usually only glimpse.

All that to say that, as much as some of your back-sliding may be subconscious, there are times when perhaps you’re more aware than you’re willing to admit. There are times when you ignore your better judgment, your inner voice and the advice of your health-care practitioner in favour of the momentary freedom of not having to care.

There are times when your fears of stepping out of the familiar shell that is your life and state of health keep you bound in inertia.

 

The good news is that making mistakes is all a part of learning.

Deliberate or not, every time I overstretch the current limits of my body, I’m brought back to a place where I can regroup with compassion, and find a new route by which I can find my way out of the familiar in comfort.

 

I will say this again because I want to be sure you heard it:

When you get to that place of feeling better that you have in ages, of having shifted into a gorgeous expansion (albeit unfamiliar):

Integrate that sensation when it comes; sit with it, get to know the edges of this newly expanded container around you, seek its wisdom. Settle into it.

 

Do you abuse your body with misplaced care? When you share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

* Note: none of the food items I mention in this anecdote are bad for you in and of themselves. They represent the worst culprits in this particular phase of my healing journey. We’ll talk more about permission and concepts such as 80/20 in an upcoming post.

 

I Know What to Do, I Just Don’t Do It.

 

I get it.

There are only so many hours in a day. You only have so much creative energy and only so much will power. You’re keeping the family happy, you’re effective at work; how can you be expected to be consistent with positive food changes?

You know perfectly well that to lose the weight, heal your digestive woes, calm the allergies, you’ll have to cut out an entire grocery list of foods & additives, squash a lifetime of bad eating habits, and probably eat more vegetables.

The theory’s all mapped out in your head, but you just can’t seem to put those good intentions into action.

Instead, you use what precious little energy you have left at the end of the day to beat yourself up about everything you should be doing while mindlessly inhaling a pint of cherry chocolate with a salt & vinegar chaser.

It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? You start by taking stabs at your poor food choices, until your mind inevitably points out how you haven’t been feeding the kids so well lately, not to mention all the other bad parenting moments you’ve had this week, …how did you think you can be an effective parent with everything else you’re dealing with? What were you thinking? Did you really think you could manage it all?…Is this boat you’re in all your fault because you chose the wrong man in the first place?…And now you’re going to be a fat, lonely slob for the rest of your life!

How stupid are you?!?

STOP THAT!

Right now. Just stop. Take a breath.

We’ll look at the mindless junk food habit next time; for now, let’s talk about the self-flagellation.

Would you talk to anyone else that way? Would you tell a friend what an idiot she is for eating ice cream or getting divorced? I’d wager not.

It’s time to stop being so tough on yourself and try a bit of tough love instead. You know, set yourself straight in the kind way you would with a small child you care about.

Another good theory, but it’s where you get stuck in the follow-through.

It comes down to perfection. That habit you have whereby, if you’re not going to do something to the letter, the way the experts and the health nuts do it, you’re not even going to bother.

Tell me, if the boss handed you a list of what she expects you to accomplish over the next 6 months, and told you to get it all figured out tomorrow, you’d freak out, right? You’d quit your job, or report it to the higher-ups. If, however, she explained the big picture of the goals she wants to reach by the end of the year, then gave you the first pieces to start on, it would be simple, doable.

Same goes with how you nourish yourself.

Consistent, positive food changes require awareness, small steps and a hint of tough love.

 

If you’ve given even half the thought to all the possible solutions you’ve googled, there are likely a few options that stand out, whether you want to admit it or not. Trust that wisdom. Chances are there’s a reason you zoned in on them.

 

Of all the things you know you need to do to get your body back to its happy place, pick one.

Just one. It will likely be complex in and of itself.

For example, giving up dairy is one thing you know might help your digestion.

 

Break it down further:

Become aware of when and how you eat it: notice through the course of a few days and/or write down all the foods you normally eat that contain some form of dairy – milk, cream, ice cream, yogourt, cheese, whey powder, butter,…

Now choose ONE of those, and replace it: instead of the milk/cream you use in a day, put almond milk in your coffee, coconut milk in your porridge or your soup, have tomato/vegetable sauce on your pasta… after a few days, even a week, move onto to replacing the cheese, and so on…

In the same way you would track the metrics and such of how your work project is progressing, you can understand how well these changes are helping (or not) by observing your body, your energy, your moods.

Notice how you feel after a meal without the usual ingredient.

Notice if any of your symptoms calm. Maybe nothing happens after a week of no milk, but eliminating the cheese then makes a difference, …does it improve more when you reduce your dairy sources even further?

What happens to your appetite, your hunger and your satiety?

What happens to your cravings?

Has your sleep improved? Your energy?

Notice where you still get stuck.

Have you run out of ideas? Do you lack motivation? Would you kill for a piece of cheese?

Get help if you need it.

 

Every journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Same applies to self-care habits.

Pick a habit to change.
Trust yourself to stick with it.
Notice what happens.

 

What do you KNOW you have to change and where do you get stuck? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Know someone who’s been lacking consistency in her food habits? Send her this post using any (or all!) of these buttons.

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Something’s not right. Should I give up gluten?

 

Every once in a while, you get to the point in your life when something’s got to give. The sense of dissatisfaction spills over into your body, so you just don’t feel right, and those nagging little things start to get louder.

Life has a way of showing up in your body.

I’ve given up counting the number of women I come across who feel the stress of life in their digestive tracts.

  • Women whose IBS reflects the turmoil in their marriage or their job
  • who can’t eat when things get too intense
  • who develop allergies to everything from soup to nuts
  • who suddenly can’t digest the foods they’ve always eat
  • who start gaining weight without having changed a thing in their habits.

When life takes a big left turn, it’s only normal that you’re going to feel it where you’re most susceptible – digestive tract or other places.

When you’re in the muddy transition zone of moving from the life you knew into the vast unknown, your body is going to express its fear in the place it knows you’ll hear it.

When something desperately needs to change, your body will speak to you in a language that makes you pay attention.

Because you feel it in your body, the first place you’re going to look to fix things will be with your body.

Inevitably these women all ask me the same question: “Should I give up gluten?”

Possibly, though not necessarily.

 

Why gluten’s an all-around problem all of a sudden:

Without going into a long sermon about the overload of gluten (mostly highly-hybridized wheat) in our North American diets, understand that too much of anything difficult to digest will cause problems.

Being on the harder-to-digest end of the spectrum, gluten helps set the stage for inflammation anywhere in your body.

When there’s already inflammation specifically in the gut, there is limited access to the brush border enzymes that break down that gluten, amplifying the problem.

Meaning: If there’s any of inflammation in your body – anywhere in your body – gluten may do you more harm than good.

 

It’s not just the gluten:

I can almost bet that most of the gluten you eat comes in the form of refined wheat (or other grains), i.e. flour products. Even if your bread and pasta and muffins are made with whole grain flour…they’re still made with flour!!

As a matter of fact, even if you’re avoiding gluten, there are a heck of a lot of lovely substitutes that are also flour-based…because they’re aimed at replacing the stand-bys you’d rather not go without.

Think of it this way: remember when you were in kindergarten and you mixed flour and water to make a paste? Imagine how that paste would gum up your intestines, making the digestion of almost anything more difficult.

Meaning: Get your starch and sugars from whole grains (full stop!) and vegetables…not flour products.

 

The bigger picture:

Let me ask you this – regardless of whether you know the source of your stress and your belly aches:

What about your life are you not digesting?

What is it about your current life and the chaos you’ve been getting through that you can’t assimilate?

What are you having a hard time swallowing?

What makes you nauseous?

I can do this all day, but I think you get the point.

Here’s your invitation: Insert whatever symptom  you’re having (digestive or otherwise) into the metaphoric questions and notice what comes up.

Most likely you’ll find emotions that need expressing and beliefs that could use re-evaluating.

Meaning: Your digestion is a reflection of how you digest life.

I wrote a whole post elaborating on that idea here.

 

Chances are, even if staying away from gluten will ease your symptoms, the way your body is reacting – the way it’s speaking to you – will open the door to the places that really need your love and healing attention.

All you have to do is listen.

 

I’d love to hear what comes up for you when you ask yourself those questions. If it’s too personal for posting below, by all means, send me an email instead. When you share your story, you open the possibilities for others.

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Breakfast to Get You Out the Door (when you can barely get out of bed)

 

Don’t you hate it when health consultants and nutritionists tell you that all you need to charge your day is a good breakfast? Do you want to hit someone the next time you hear that the right balance of protein and vitamins will get you going in the morning? (ahem…guilty as charged)

Sometimes the well-intentioned advice hasn’t taken into consideration the fact that you can barely get out of bed in the first place. Given the fact that your life is in such a turmoil right now, the only thing that energizes you is the thought of pulling the covers over your head and staying there until next July.

The only motivation you have for not giving into the obligation are your hungry kids and a fear of getting fired.

Overwhelm is like that. You just don’t want to have to think or feel or do life because every time you try, it’s as if you’re about to drown in the immensity of it all.

So you go through the motions. You throw some cereal at the kids, maybe pour a coffee down your own throat with the last bit of banana bread from yesterday and get on with your day.

Sure this routine might keep you putting one foot in front of the other, but the truth of the matter is, it’s only going to keep you stuck in that vicious cycle of overwhelm.

Physiologically, all coffee does is put your body into stress response – something you don’t actually need help with right now. And if you don’t already feel derailed enough, a lack of food in the morning or something sweet will ensure the impact on your blood sugar will up the ante.

I know. I know. You’re not actually hungry and putting a half decent supper on the table is about all you can manage when it comes to cooking.

Even if you don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning, the one thing you can do for yourself is connect to your body. It’s for this very reason that your morning needs to start somewhere other than food.

Connecting to your body, as you do nothing more than breathe – listening to your body – is the one act of nourishment you can offer yourself before you even consider what else the day holds.

This is where practices, such as meditation, affirmations, or with receiving a ray of light into your heart, come in. When you start the day with even the tiniest reminder of who YOU are in the middle of the upheaval that is your life right now, you open the door to possibility for more.

You open yourself to the energy stores you forgot about, you open yourself to the early stages of renewed self-love, you open to what it takes to feed yourself adequately.

In those moments, there’s nothing to do but breathe, connect and listen.

One day, maybe you’ll realize you’re thirsty, so you start with a glass of water, maybe a squeeze of lemon.

One day, you might feel hungry, so you have a bite of last night’s chicken (or the banana bread).

One day, you may actually get the urge to boil a few eggs for everyone…

The thing I love so much about breakfast – other than the food part – is that it holds the forgiveness of a new day, a new leaf. No matter what happened yesterday, no matter what you ate or didn’t eat, breakfast is a chance to start again, to put a different foot to the fore, and maybe make a few strides towards better mindset and better health.

Trust that one day you’ll get yourself to the ideal of adequate protein, good fats and other nutrient-dense options in the morning. Likely sooner than you think when you start by nourishing your soul for now. (When you’re ready, you can get more details here.)

My morning routine has become the ritual that allows me time to reassess, to nourish my whole being, and to start each day with intention despite the whirlwind life can be. Your routine may not look like mine, and may evolve over time – the important part being that it’s an expression of who you are and what YOU need on a given day.

What gets you out the door each morning? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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